Faithful despite the fear

What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? (Romans 3:3 ESV)

Our refrigerator helps tell the story of our lives. You can barely see the surface behind favorite photos of our kids, Christmas card photos of friends and families, and magnets representing vacations or craft times.

The side by the pantry sports two yellow stars that my husband and I added in January. Identical stars were probably in elementary classrooms all across America before the COVID-19 pandemic changed so much about our lives in the last few months. But ours aren’t from an old school project. Ours are from our pastor.

In one of her first sermons of 2020, she talked of how people sometimes choose a word as a theme or focus going into a new year. She thought it would be an interesting exercise for us to do as a congregation – receive a word that could be a touch point for our faith this year, and see what we had learned from it a few months later. We all chose a star without looking, praying that the word written there would be something of merit for us.

My word is faithfulness. And the further we get into 2020, the more I see that I would be hard pressed to find a word that better represents what I have needed this year.

  • Faithfulness in God’s direction as our daughter chose which college she’ll attend in the fall.
  • Faithfulness in His leading when I wanted to find a new ladies’ Bible study that works with my crazy work schedule.
  • Faithfulness in His provision when I stared at aisle after aisle of empty shelves when I tried to buy groceries.
  • Faithfulness in His protection as our son completes a 10-week summer internship in California.
  • Faithfulness in His calling as I turn back to writing for Him after years of keeping flash drives full of words and ideas tucked away while I focused on other things.

Some of these situations seem easy on the surface. But the truth is, these – and many other things – have made fear clench my heart and knot my stomach more times than I’d like to admit.

Fear? Of finding a Bible study or resurrecting writing projects?

Yes, fear. The older I get, the more I see that my biggest fears and insecurities often tie to things that seem simple because they’re the things I know God would want me to do. After all, why wouldn’t I feel confident that God would want me to go to Bible study?

My confidence in that is exactly right – because it’s not God who’s making me feel fearful or uncertain. Those confidence-busting thoughts and emotions are coming from the enemy. And they crop up at those times because the enemy knows exactly when and where to push my insecurity buttons to keep me from moving in the direction God wants.

But here’s one thing I know: my God’s faithfulness far outweighs any fears that the enemy might stir up in me. I might falter in my faithfulness to whatever He’s calling me to, but He will never falter in being faithful to me. Even on the days when I let the enemy get in my head too much.

My God will always – always – take away my fears, no matter how big or small they might be. I just have to go to Him in faith and trust Him to do the rest.

Father God, there are so many times when fear grips me so tightly I can hardly breathe. Remind me in those moments that You are the breath of life, the calm in the storm, the balm for my fears. Strengthen my faithfulness and help me trust You more each day. Amen.

Thankful for the Truth Tellers

Tell the truth. It’s something we’re taught from such a young age we don’t remember when we first heard it. We’re told that the truth is always best, and it is – but that doesn’t mean it never hurts along the way.

I think we’ve all had times when the truth hurt so much that we wanted to run and hide from the world and never come back out. Surely if we just stayed curled up under the covers and went to sleep long enough, when we woke up everything would be back to the way it was just a little while ago.

thankful truth in loveUnfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. And the thing is, being the one who has to tell someone an unpleasant truth can be just as hard as being the one who hears it.

Granted, there might be times when we’re so hurt or frustrated or angry ourselves that we just blurt out the words without letting them pass through our “how are they going to take this?” filter.

Paul talks in his letter to the Ephesians about speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). He’s just talked about how Christ helps different people (pastors, teachers, and others) work together to build each other (and the church) up. As we grow together, we learn how to discern the truth of things and not be so easily deceived, “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” We speak the truth in love to each other so we can build and support each other as we all keep trying to figure things out.

It can be a delicate balance, walking the fine line of speaking the truth without destroying the other person – especially when that person doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. It’s something never to be taken lightly and always to be taken with prayer. Because without prayer, without asking God to block my own stupid words and replace them with His perfect ones, I don’t stand a chance.

Hopefully, God will give us those words so we can get past our fear and say what needs to be said. Hopefully, we have a close enough relationship with the other person that she knows what we say comes from our heart and our love, not a desire to hurt.

My hat goes off today to those people around me who are brave enough to speak the truth in love to whoever they believe needs to hear it. I just pray that I can say the same thing about myself when God puts me in that situation.

Your turn: Author Flannery O’Conner once said, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” Which do you think is harder most of the time – hearing the truth from someone you care about, or speaking the truth in love?

Casting Crowns has been one of my favorite Christian groups since their first CD released in 2003 (wow, has it really been that long?). I thought you might enjoy the video of their song “Love You With the Truth” from their CD Thrive.

What I’ve learned lately … with Jennifer Hudson Taylor

I was added to an online critique group soon after joining American Christian Fiction Writers a few years ago. Jennifer Hudson Taylor was part of that group, and taught me so much by her comments! She’s now a published novelist with Abingdon Press; her debut novel, Highland Blessings, was released in 2010 and her follow-up, Highland Sanctuary, releases this month. We’ll finally meet in person when she joins the faculty at our local writers’ group conference in November. In the meantime, I’m she’s able to stop by to share with us here today.

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Micro Progress is Still Progress

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

 

How many times have you heard someone say, “I take two steps forward, and one step back.”

This cliché was born out of frustration. Most of the time we feel like we’re being pushed back. It isn’t a step we’re actually taking with purpose. It’s unplanned and it breeds discouragement.

The good news is even if you feel like you’re back where you started, most of the time you’ve learned something in the process or God may be protecting you from being in a place at the wrong time. There is a reason for everything—even when we can’t see it.

Recently, our family has been going through many things. My father-in-law passed away from cancer a month ago and at the same time my mom was battling a different kind of cancer. We knew he wouldn’t make it, but were assured hers was caught in time. Cancer is a kind of illness that takes a while to overcome or succumb. It not only wears out the ones battling it, but the loved ones trying to surround their loved one with strong support.

I was frustrated that I couldn’t take time off from work for every visit to be with my mom and help her make decisions. I had to rely on the info she relayed to me, hoping she had heard correctly and wasn’t forgetting something important in the midst of her distress. Yes, I may be a published author, but I still have a full-time job with a boss who owns my time during those 40 hours each week. My time is not my own, and I struggle with this concept—especially when I feel like I’m needed elsewhere.

During this time I had to let go of some things such as canceling a trip to a writer’s conference where I was scheduled to present three workshops, took a sabbatical from some blogs, stopped scheduling events and book signings for my new book release. These were temporary setbacks, but my family was much more important. The only thing that nagged me was falling behind on my word count each week because I had signed a contract that I would finish a book by a certain time, and I was already stretching myself to meet this contract obligation in my already limited schedule.

I’ve always been taught to meet my obligations no matter what it takes, so a bit of anxiety began to set in when my word count dropped until there were a few days with no word count. But I didn’t give up, and kept plugging away at what I COULD do. Guess what? By the end of September, I’d written 20,000 words—more than I’d planned by 8,000 words.

I can’t explain it, but what I learned is that if we are faithful in the small things, God will multiply our efforts. Pennies saved can become hundreds saved if we keep adding to it. We have to keep sowing seeds, and let God give the increase.

 

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)

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Jennifer Hudson Taylor is an award winning author of historical Christian fiction set in Europe and the Carolinas and a speaker on topics of faith, writing and publishing. Her work has appeared in national publications, such as Guideposts, Heritage Quest Magazine, Romantic Times Book Reviews, and The Military Trader. She serves as the in-house Publicist at Hartline Literary Agency and co-owns Upon the Rock Publishing, an e-publishing/publicist company. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with family, long walks, traveling, touring historical sites, hanging out at bookstores with coffee shops, genealogy, and reading.

 

What I’ve Learned Lately … with Gail Pallotta

Today I’m honored to have my writing friend Gail Pallotta join us for “What I’ve Learned Lately.” Gail and I met at an American Christian Writers conference in Atlanta several years ago, then pitched a devotional book project together at the Florida Christian Writers Conference (no takers … oh well). She visits my local writers group when she can so it’s always good to see each other and catch up on writing things.

A little more about Gail: Love Turns the Tide is Gail’s first romance, but she’s been writing for as long as she can remember. Her first story appeared in a grammar school newspaper. Much later, she worked as an editor and copywriter. After she married she helped her husband with his business, but continued to write. Between the feature stories she wrote at work and the freelance pieces she placed, she published several hundred articles. After some of them were selected for anthologies and two ended up in museums, friends and family nudged her to “do more.” Then she undertook a lifelong dream and wrote a novel. In 2004, the year she published her first book, Now Is the Time, the American Christian Writers Association named her a regional writer of the year. This past November an excerpt from Love Turns the Tide won the Clash of the Titles Challenge in the best nature / weather scene category.

 

No Two Leaves Alike

I’ve learned that children love macaroni and cheese. Little boys play with worms and bugs. Little girls dance in tutus. Teenagers like to stay out all night. Men want to watch sports on television. Women prefer movies or soap operas.

Even if I don’t sew, I have fun with friends who do because we both like to cook, have lunch or shop. What’s hard is learning that we’re different. With all the things we share, each of us is as different as the leaves on the trees. Some leaves have bug bites on one side. Others have middle veins running off center. Some are broken, cracked or discolored. While one leaf looks perfectly shaped almost as though an accomplished artist drew it, another appears lopsided as though something thwarted its growth. But at a distance the leaves just look like leaves.

Knowing someone from afar, I assume that person’s just like me. Oh, I don’t expect him or her to resemble me. I expect him or her to act like me, to have my values, my beliefs and my sensitivities. Sometimes after being around a person for years, that individual does something that shocks or upsets me. So many times I’ve thought, How could he or she do that? I wouldn’t do or say that to him or her. Or I’ve asked myself, How can he or she not understand what I’m saying? At the time perhaps my feelings are hurt, or I wonder why this person isn’t as excited about something as I am.

The simple truth is that person isn’t me. We may be friends or even relatives and have a lot in common, but we’re different. From a very young age life shows each of us different experiences, hurts, and joys. I’ve learned it’s best to accept others as they are rather than harbor hurt feelings or worse, get angry or resentful. I have to allow each person to be who he or she is, and love him or her. That’s what God tells us to do. I imagine from where He’s sitting He wants to see us in harmony like the leaves hanging on the trees.

In Matthew 22: 37-39, Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

Thanks, Gail, for joining us. I find myself in the same trap many days – I assume that someone is like me just because we grew up together or see each other through things with our kids. Not always the case, though, is it? But then, how dull things would be if we were all alike and how interesting it can be to find those little differences that make us, “us.”

Read more about Gail on her Web site at http://www.gailpallotta.com and visit her blog at http://www.gailpallotta.blogspot.com Gail’s romance, Love Turns the Tide, is available from www.awe-struck.net. Just click on the inspirational category.